Sure, getting there takes up gobs of memory, a special kind of
Internet connection and a modem that's probably twice as fast as
the one you bought just last year.
But once you've made your way onto the World Wide Web, getting
around is getting easier all the time _ thanks to a new class of
Web "browser" software programs.
Unless you've been oblivious to current affairs _ including
the cyber ruminations of Newt Gingrich _ you doubtless know by
now that the Internet's World Wide Web is an electronic amalgam
of the public library, the suburban shopping mall and the
And you already know that the World Wide Web refers to a
system of viewing information, much of it containing graphics and
video, stored on the tens of thousands of network servers
connected to the Internet.
At the Web's core is a system known as hypertext linking,
which makes it easy for people to move from one related document
to another without having to know or care where in the world the
information is stored.
"The Web has made the Internet usable to a general audience,
rather than the technical users who had been the only ones using
it for years and years," said Stephen Franco, an analyst with the
Yankee Group, a market research and consulting company in
Evidence that the World Wide Web has indeed become mainstream
came earlier this month, when the Prodigy Service became the
first of the major online services to offer Web access to its
subscribers. America Online says it will follow suit by the end
of March, Compuserve by this summer.
Making all this possible is Web browser software. The Web
browser market is effectively divided into two camps. In one camp
are programs based on NCSA Mosaic, the original graphical Web
browser, developed at the National Center for Supercomputer
Applications at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
and released in 1993 for use by the public at no charge. In the
other camp are browser programs not based on Mosaic.
Which one you choose is a matter of taste, and of what kind of
Internet connection you have. Some providers of Internet network
access services determine for you which Web browser you will
For example, Netcom Online Communications Services Inc. of San
Jose, Calif., uses only its own proprietary browser. But most
other Internet access providers, including Performance Systems
Inc. of Herndon, Va., leave the choice of a browser up to you.
(Either way, you'll also need a very fast modem _ a minimum speed
of 14,400 bits per second is recommended _ or an even faster
connection through a type of digital circuit from the phone
company known as an ISDN line.)
Most Web browsers today run under Microsoft's Windows
operating system, though there are several notable browsers for
the Apple Macintosh. IBM, meanwhile, is including a Mosaic-based
Web browser with every copy of the new IBM OS/2 Warp operating
system. And other new browsers are reaching the market all the
"Each month, it seems, a new browser comes out with some gee
whiz new features and leapfrogs the others," Franco said.
Last year, the University of Illinois appointed Spyglass Inc.,
a small software company in Naperville, Ill., as the licensing
agent for Mosaic. Since then, more than a dozen software
companies have licensed the program, added enhancements and have
released or plan to release commercial versions backed by
The university also continues to make the program available
free on the Internet, but going this route entails a risk: When
things go awry, you're on your own.
Yet while Mosaic originally unlocked the Web's riches, it's
not the only key to the kingdom.
The leading alternative is Netscape Navigator, from Netscape
Communications Inc. Netscape Navigator, which was developed by
several members of the team that created the original Mosaic, is
currently the best-selling commercial Web browser. …